How to help an active and easily distracted child

How to help an active and easily distracted child
How can I help my child channel their energy and focus?

While it’s normal for young children to move around a lot and not be able to focus on a game for very long, some kids are more active than others and have a shorter attention span.

Why are some children more active and distracted than others?

All children are different. Some can only sit quietly for a minute or two, while others have no problem focusing on a book. Some 3- and 4-year-olds run, jump, and climb in the park while others are content to play quietly in the sandbox with a bucket and shovel.

If your little one seems more active than others, it may be due to their temperament. Every child has their own distinct character traits and disposition that make them unique.

Their family environment also plays a role. For instance, a child with active and sporty parents is more likely to enjoy activities that get them moving. By the same token, parents who prefer calmer, quieter activities like reading and puzzles will encourage a different level of focus in their child.

Some parents are also more tolerant of their children moving around, while others are quicker to encourage them to settle down.

In addition, a child will be less likely to fully engage with an activity if they find it boring or unfulfilling. Respecting your child’s interests and needs will help them stay attentive for longer. For example, a child who often has trouble sitting still may have an easier time staying focused on a quiet activity if it involves something they’re interested in, such as animals or trucks.

However, before the age of 4 or 5, most children have a hard time sitting still for long periods of time. Activities and games that require them to focus for relatively short periods of time are better suited to their attention span.

What if your child is especially active and easily distracted?

The following tips will help you handle your high-energy, easily distracted child:

  • Pick a game your child enjoys and spend a little time playing it with them every day. Over time, gradually increase how long you play the game. This will help improve their attention span and strengthen your bond.
  • Limit unnecessary distractions and noises when you want your child to be able to focus for longer. For example, pick a quiet spot to sit down and do a puzzle together. Similarly, ask them to turn off or put away screens before they start a task.
  • Give your child one instruction at a time, speaking slowly and clearly. This will help them understand your expectations better. After giving your instructions, make sure they understand what they are supposed to do.
  • Give your little one space to move. Take them outside and let them run and jump. You could also set up an indoor play area with cushions for added safety. They’ll be more cooperative when you ask them to settle down, since their energy will have already been channelled into physical activities.
  • Inform your child of upcoming changes throughout the day by saying, for example: “You have 5 minutes left to play in the park, then it’s dinner time!” This will help them successfully navigate the transitions between different activities during the day and fully enjoy the time they spend playing. For younger kids, it may be helpful to use a visual aid, such as a timer or hourglass.
  • Make sure your child understands their daily routine. Changes in routine can be a source of anxiety for children who have a hard time concentrating and cause them to become more restless than normal.
  • Limit their screen time, as exposure to screens tends to get kids “revved up.” Instead, encourage your little one to do things that allow them to burn off some energy (playing pretend, dressing up, racing down the hallway, doing yoga, etc.).
  • Give your child sensory toys or objects to play with. Having fun making things and taking them apart can be a calming activity for a high-energy child. Play dough, stress balls, weighted stuffed animals, and other sensory toys help kids stay calm and focused.
  • Encourage your child to do soothing activities in the evening, such as playing in a warm bath, reading a story, meditating, or doing breathing exercises. This will help them wind down before bedtime.
  • Acknowledge your child’s successes, effort, and perseverance several times a day (e.g., “Way to go, you finished your block tower!”) This allows them to see evidence of their progress, feel valued, and build their self-esteem.
  • Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. A lack of sleep can affect their ability to self-regulate. If they’re very tired, they may have a harder time calming down.

For a list of game ideas to help your child relax, see our fact sheet on relaxation through play.

Does my child have ADHD?

If you notice that your child’s restlessness and poor attention span are having a negative impact on their daily life, or are interfering with relationships at home or at daycare, you should talk to your child’s doctor to assess whether your child has an attention-deficit disorder (with or without hyperactivity). To learn more about this disorder, take a look at our fact sheet on attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD) (in French)

Things to keep in mind

  • It’s normal for young children to move around a lot and have a short attention span.
  • You can help your child channel their energy by giving them opportunities to move.
  • By gradually prolonging the duration of the activities they like, you can help them improve their attention span.
Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Andréane Ringuette, psychoeducator, and Rose-Marie Coallier, intern and master’s student in psychoeducation
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: April 2024

Photo: Behr

Sources and references

Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • Centre de réadaptation Marie Enfant du CHU Sainte-Justine. “How to enhance your child’s attention and concentration?” 2017.
  • Collectif. Affiche du retour au calme. Quebec City, Éditions Midi trente, 2023.
  • Collectif. Cartons du retour au calme. Quebec City, Éditions Midi trente, 2023.
  • Educatall. “5 simple ways to intervene with a highly active child.”
  • Radio-Canada Ohdio. Méditation pour les enfants. 2021.
  • Snel, Eline. Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents). Shambhala, 2013, 128 pp.